Like most of us, criminals truly love the holiday season. But they love this time of year not for spiritual or sentimental reasons. The holiday season is open season as far as criminals are concerned. It's a time of grand opportunity to steal.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, thefts, burglaries and property crimes greatly increase. Every year we hear stories of thieves stealing Christmas trees, children's gifts from cars and homes, and armed robbers sticking up holiday shoppers.
In Sydney, Australia thieves broke into a warehouse and stole 16 tons of ham and bacon worth around $90,000. The thieves left a cheery note that said, "Thanks, Merry Christmas!"
Another band of heartless thieves broke into a shelter over a weekend in New York and stole 1,000 gifts intended for homeless children. The gifts, collected by the U.S. Marine Reserve, included walkmans, electronic games and toys.
My candidate for the Grinch-of-the-Year award goes to a thief who broke into the drive-thru window of the very Dunkin Donut store where a Philadelphia police officer was recently shot and killed in a well-publicized armed robbery.
The thief stole the jar filled with cash donations for the slain officer's widow and children. Fortunately, the store's camera caught the callous thief in action and needless to say, the local cops are not happy with this guy. I suspect he will be caught before the New Year.
I recall Tim Fanning, a veteran Philly cop, telling me some years ago that thieves were basically cowards and opportunists.
"As cowards, their victims are almost women and senior citizens, people they perceive as being unable to fight back. They also break into homes and businesses when they think no one is there to confront them," the Fanning said.
"As opportunists, they are constantly on the prowl, looking for a door with a flimsy lock or someone casually swinging a handbag on one finger."
To prevent a thief from ruining your holiday, there are basic crime prevention measures that you can take. These measures are good to have all year around. Law enforcement and security professionals say that noise and lights are the best crime deterrents. An audible alarm, a barking dog and bright lights will often send the common thief running.
Burglar alarm systems, with cameras and exterior lights, are the ideal. Be sure that your doors and windows are securely locked. Purchase and install good locks. Cheap and flimsy locks are easily popped by thieves.
It's easy to be distracted, but you should always be alert and aware of your surroundings. Thieves, working in teams, will bump into you to distract you as they steal. In your place of business, keep your cash, pilferable items which can easily be pocketed, and credit card information under lock and key.
Don't leave merchandise in your vehicles or visible in a storefront overnight or over the weekend. Thieves will jump at the opportunity to steal your property.
So for the rest of this holiday season - and for all year long - be aware that thieves will steal your belongings if you give them the opportunity. You can greatly reduce those opportunities by being alert, aware and by installing basic crime prevention measures like alarms, cameras and lights.
"Just as you go to your place of work to do your job, the criminal's job is to go out and steal," Fanning said. "And they don't take a Christmas vacation."
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